The 2017 rookie class had many big names coming into this season, such as; Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, and Dennis Smith Jr. just to name a few. However, someone who didn’t receive as much attention is Donovan Mitchell. Having been drafted 13th overall by the Denver Nuggets, he was immediately traded to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Trey Lyles. Mitchell was one of the least talked about lottery picks coming into this season and there was a reason for that. He only averaged 11.7 points per game and four rebounds in college, while those are not bad statistics they are nowhere near what he has been averaging at the NBA level.
To start the year it was expected that Rodney Hood was going to be starting alongside Ricky Rubio in the backcourt for the Jazz. It was not too long into the season that it was made clear that couldn’t be the case. Off the bench, Donovan Mitchell had three 20+ point games in the first nine games of the season. A few games later Hood got injured and since then Mitchell has remained the starter and scoring leader for Utah. Mitchell is averaging 18.4 points (first amongst rookies) 3.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game (third amongst rookies). While those stats are all impressive he is only improving, averaging 23.1 points in the month of December.
— NBA (@NBA) January 7, 2018
What separates Donovan Mitchell from the rest of his rookie class is the confidence he plays with. He is the number one option on the Jazz and it is apparent whenever he is on the court. He runs the offense when Rubio is on the bench and nearly half the time when he is on the floor, exemplified by his 28.4-percent usage rate, good for highest amongst rookies. He is their go-to guy in clutch situations, and he gets players involved more than the assists show. Many times Mitchell makes the right pass, but his teammates cannot knock down an open look. Another sign of his confidence is, his free throw percentage is the highest among rookies at 85 percent. It is common for some young players to struggle from the free throw line, because of nerves or pressure. Luckily for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell is more than your average young player.
Although they haven’t been winning all that much as of late, that is likely to change when Rudy Gobert comes back from his latest injury. Last season, Utah had a top-three defense all year and the reason was Gobert. If they even become a top-10 defense with him in the lineup, watch out for Utah to snatch the 8th seed in the Western Conference come April. An offensive leader in Mitchell and a defensive leader in Gobert is a one-two punch many teams cannot match. The Jazz should be delighted to have young stars on both sides of the ball to build their team around.
Now it is quite clear Mitchell has a bright future (if he stays consistent) but, the real question is, is he the Rookie of the Year? Well, the other candidates would be Ben Simmons, Kyle Kuzma, and Jayson Tatum, and if the season ended today it would not be Donovan Mitchell’s award, it would probably go to Simmons. With that being said Mitchell’s stats are consistently increasing and when Gobert is back his assists are sure to spike. So by the end of the season, Mitchell will be the winner of the award, it may not be clear cut but he can’t get overlooked if he keeps his play up.
Donovan Mitchell one-hand beasted Dwight Howard for a rebound… pic.twitter.com/C8WE4IVlH2
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) January 13, 2018
Donovan Mitchell has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His athleticism and passion for the game resemble one of the best shooting guards of all-time in Dwyane Wade. Their games are very similar in their uncanny ability to block shots, drive to the basket, play the passing lanes. The list goes on and on and on. The only major difference between the two is Mitchell’s ability to shoot the three-point shot.
Without pushing the boat out and saying that he is the next Wade, but the comparison is undeniable. Whether or not he can fulfill the potential he has shown this season is still to be determined, but either way, the Jazz have a special talent in Donovan Mitchell.